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The King of Fighters XII

Platform(s): Arcade, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: SNK
Developer: SNK


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Xbox 360 Review - 'The King of Fighters XII'

by Glenn "Otter" Juskiewicz on Aug. 7, 2009 @ 3:41 a.m. PDT

The legendary 3-on-3 fighting game series that united rival brawlers from SNK Playmore’s classic arcade franchises celebrates its 15th anniversary in style with The King of Fighters XII. For the first time in its history, this epic martial arts showdown has undergone a complete graphical overhaul. The antiquated character sprites used over the past 14 years have been dropped in favor of all-new, high-resolution fighters fluidly animating across painstakingly detailed, 100% hand-drawn backgrounds.

Genre: Fighting
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Release Date: July 24, 2009

I remember playing the original King of Fighters back in the early '90s in the local arcades because well, that's what one did before the rise of the plentiful and abundant home console.  King of Fighters featured a lot of familiar SNK fighters from other titles, most notably Fatal Fury and Ikari Warriors.  The franchise was popular enough to launch a yearly update to the game, which subsequently got named '94, '95 and so on, all of which appeared on the aforementioned home console platform.  It's 2009 now, and rather than get mired in two-digit year conversion problems akin to Y2K, we have King of Fighters XII.

There is a good news/bad news relationship with this game, which is at times equally as wonderful as it is disheartening.  Let's start off with the good.

The good:  King of Fighters XII features 20 characters, both well-established and fresh, so fan boys will still be able to play as Joe Higashi and Raiden.  You also get two new characters in the form of Elizabeth and Mature.

The bad:  It's only 20 fighters.  King of Fighters XI, by comparison, had double that amount.  I really can't understand why you'd want to limit your fight roster so drastically.  Fans certainly wouldn't mind if it meant playing through modes to unlock additional characters, but XII won't reward you thusly.

The good:  I suppose this "good" could be debatable, but with XII, SNK has literally gone back to the drawing board and redrawn all of the characters back to their original 2-D components.  This means that the backgrounds and animated sequences still have that old-school flavor, but with the advantage of modern console rendering. 

The bad:  The game still uses the same 3v3 style of fights that previous titles had, though now Tactical Shift is gone.  I don't know if there were people out there who hated the system, but I don't see why removing it was a smart move.  If nothing else, having the option to toggle the TSS would be nice, but nope.  It's not in XII.  You just can't swap out your fighters during bouts or, more importantly, cancel out specific combos.  Fights are strictly in an elimination mode style, so if you can kick butt as Duo Lon, you can and have to play as him through every fight until he's knocked out.

The good:  Critical Counters have been added, which puts at least a little more finesse and tactical thought to the fighting.  Now you can hit a strong punch as a counter and slow down time a bit to launch into a massive chain attack and do some serious damage.

The bad:  When you execute a Critical Counter, the game zooms in briefly to "showcase" the attack, and with a sprite-based game, that's just a bad move.  It results in some pretty ugly pixel blocking and shows off the age of the KoF franchise rather than highlighting its strengths.

King of Fighters XII just keeps going back and forth like this.  You find something cool, and then you find something oddly missing.  To boil it down into its purest essence, it's a fighting game, plain and simple.  Every character has a light punch, heavy punch, light kick and heavy kick.  You can jump at three different planned heights, you can dash forward and back, counter-punch, guard-attack, string together combos, throw, and attack with special power moves.  As a true SNK game, it plays as smoothly and familiarly as every other KoF title.  One thing King of Fighters XII has over other fighting games is that you can actually play the game properly with a standard controller as opposed to the often-preferred arcade stick controller.  Since your primary punches and kicks are lined up, there's no fumbling around the LB or RT buttons.  Naturally, you can choose either the thumbstick or d-pad for movement, both of which respond as intended.

King of Fighters XII is a port, and as such, the translations often don't fit the animations on the screen.  The audio quality is on par, but every time I went to select my three fighters and was told to "choose my order" of the fighters, it sounded like "choose yo odor," which just made me laugh.

Yes, I am that easily amused. 

One thing that I did particularly like was that if I chose to fight either a 3v3 or 1v1 against the computer, at the completion of each fight I was taken back to the character select menu to continue fighting, not back to the main game menu.  This could be fine-tuned even further to allow me to keep my same three favorites rather than re-select them every time, but beggars can't be choosers.  As it was, it was nice to not have to drill through the same menus every single time.

The arenas and music are likewise a throwback to the old franchise.  Background sprite characters move in repeated rhythmic gestations that might irritate some new players but is a nice homage.  All in all, King of Fighters XII feels like SNK's attempt to reboot the series by distilling all the previous games into a brand new-yet-familiar game.  Unfortunately, it seems to fall short.  There aren't enough fighters, stages, fighting modes, in-game unlock codes or achievements to make this feel like any kind of game with longevity.

The game seems to scream online multiplayer, since that's where most of your options are at, but the menu options are archaic and the online play so laggy that it's not even fun.  In a game where split-second precise counters and special attacks are key, even a second delay between moves means the difference between flawless victories and throwing your paddle across the room.  When you're playing online, you have just as much chance of randomly mashing your buttons and winning as you do with honest-to-goodness planned attacks, which is just unforgiveable.

I hate to say it, and I'm sure it'll result in a lot of fan boy backlash, but when you look at every single aspect of King of Fighters XII and compare it to Street Fighter IV, it loses every time.  It loses on replayability, graphics and, most importantly, the multiplayer aspect, which is just unforgiveable.

As you can see, KoF XII keeps flipping back and forth, coupling every good development with a bad one.  KoF XII is exactly as average as you can be, being neither wholly unplayable, nor the best of the best.  It's as if the King of Fighters is continuing to tell a story that no one really cares to hear anymore.  The bottom line is that if you are a huge fan of SNK and the KoF saga, you'll likely love this game, faults and all.  If you're a casual gamer with any interest in fighters, there are plenty of other options available that are better and will hold your attention longer, such as Street Fighter IV.

Score: 5.0/10

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